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For privacy, this site’s not a good idea

There’s a genealogy website out there called FamilyTreeNow that sounds really great.

Its homepage says it has “one of the largest collections of genealogy records anywhere, and they’re all 100% free to search!”

And it then invites us to “Start researching your family tree by entering a name above and see what we find, or start your family tree now.”1

optoutWant a bit of a jolt?

Don’t start by researching an ancestor.

Start by entering the name of a loved one and the state he or she lives in. Or even your own name, with your own state.

You may be frankly appalled at what you find.

The Legal Genealogist sure was.

The amount of information aggregated about, for example, a close female relative was stunning. Her full name. Birth year. All names and name variants she’s used. Her associates and relatives, including all of her children and all of their birth years. Her home addresses, now and in the past.

On a male relative, the data aggregated here includes enough information to track him through decades of military service.

Sorry, that’s just not right.

First off, no website needs to be handing out that much information about living people all in one place. It makes you want to scream: “Haven’t you people ever heard of identity theft?”

Second, applying the best and highest regard to ethical standards of our vocation or avocation of genealogy, no genealogy website should be giving our privacy that sort of short shrift.

The National Genealogical Society’s Guidelines for Sharing Information with Others remind us that, as genealogists and family historians, we are to consistently:

• respect the restrictions on sharing information that arise from the rights of another … as a living private person; …

• inform people who provide information about their families how it may be used, observing any conditions they impose and respecting any reservations they may express regarding the use of particular items;

• require evidence of consent before assuming that living people are agreeable to further sharing or publication of information about themselves;

• convey personal identifying information about living people—such as age, home address, genetic information, occupation, or activities—only in ways that those concerned have expressly agreed to; (and)

• recognize that legal rights of privacy may limit the extent to which information from publicly available sources may be further used, disseminated, or published…2

There’s no wiggle room here, no place for “but this is all out there somewhere so we can be ethical while aggregating it publicly no matter what the consequences are for an individual’s privacy.”

And what makes it worse — and utterly ironic — is that there’s no way even to know who’s behind this website: a WHOIS search shows that all the owner info is hidden behind a privacy wall. Think about that for a minute…

The only good thing about this website is that there is a way for each of us to have them take down the information they have. Frankly, it shouldn’t be necessary to opt out: this kind of data on living people should always be opt in. But since it is opt out, here’s how to do it:

Step 1. Navigate to the opt out page here (http://www.familytreenow.com/optout). Click on the I’m not a robot reCAPTCHA box and then the green Begin Opt Out Procedure button.

Step 2. On the search page that appears, find your own record. Click on the View Details button and make sure it’s yours and not that of some same-name person.

Step 3. Click the red Opt Out button.

Step 4. Wait — it can take up to 48 hours.

Note that you may have to repeat these steps if you find more than one record set that applies to you.

It’s up to you if you want your information appearing in this website.

But if you don’t, it’s up to you to get them to take it down.

NOTE: This isn’t the only website out there that does this. Opting out of this site will not get your data out of them all. (I don’t know of anything that will.) I’m noting it particularly because (a) it doesn’t tell us who owns this site, (b) it’s masquerading as a genealogy site, and (c) it invites unsuspecting new genealogists to set up a family tree there and validate all of this information — for the benefit of data miners.


SOURCES

  1. Homepage, FamilyTreeNow.com (http://www.familytreenow.com/ : accessed 11 Jan 2017).
  2. Guidelines for Sharing Information with Others, National Genealogical Society (http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/ : accessed 11 Jan 2017).
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